Don Quixote. Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
Markus Stenz, cond; Alban Gerhardt (vc); Lawrence Power (va); Gürzenich O
HYPERION 67960 (55:10)
Interpretive approaches to Richard Strauss’s
vary from Herbert von Karajan’s expansive hyper romantic tone-painting with Mstislav Rostropovich’s larger-than-life portrait of the hero (EMI), to Fritz Reiner’s extremely dynamic and more precise fine inner detail that doesn’t sacrifice the big picture (RCA SACD), to Fabio Luisi’s exercise in restrained lyrical flow (Sony SACD). The Gürzenich Orchestra gave the world premieres of
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
, and conductor Markus Stenz’s repertoire seems to center on late-Romantic music (especially Mahler and Richard Strauss), so this CD seemed to have plenty of potential. Sadly, it’s only partially realized.
The Gürzenich Orchestra may not quite be the Dresden Staatskapelle, but it certainly qualifies as a major Strauss orchestra and plays the music gorgeously. Markus Stenz seems to be going for an approach similar to Fabio Luisi, but he doesn’t quite have that lyrical flow down as well. The result is just too laid back to be a serious contender. Strauss’s ingenious set of Variations on a Knightly Theme is more sedate than fantastic. Time and again you want Stenz to just cut loose from his tight control. Strauss’s famous dissonant brass and woodwinds in the battle with the sheep are barely audible. The contrast with Reiner is stunning. Quixote’s encounter with the windmills almost floats lightly to a subdued climax despite some remarkable contributions from the winds and brass. The engineering contributes to the laid back presentation by excessively recessing Strauss’s brilliantly conceived percussion effects, though the sound overall is sweet and well detailed.
Cellist Alban Gerhardt is on the same page with Stenz. His portrait of Don Quixote is rich in detail but restrained to the point where it is lacking in character. Gerhardt and violist Lawrence Power play as if they are members of the orchestra (as Strauss requested) as opposed to many closely miked superstar soloists. Not surprisingly, Gerhardt’s take on Quixote’s death is the highlight of the performance, followed by two luscious final woodwind chords. Stenz, Gerhardt, and Power are going for a chamber approach that doesn’t always work despite the many solo passages.
This interpretive approach is for the most part valid and acceptable with
, but hardly competitive with the best (Reiner and Karajan). Applied to
, it is a disaster. With the recessed percussion and underplayed dynamics, Stenz’s Till is a humorless rogue. He also applies some jarring and surprisingly mannered brass crescendos and decrescendos as Till is sent to the gallows. Once again, the Gürzenich Orchestra and French horn soloist are outstanding. This CD’s potential remains unfulfilled, despite the excellent orchestral playing and sound.